An Introduction to Chess Openings

The Study of Chess Openings

He or she who begins a study of chess will no doubt be amazed by the vast amount of information and theory available on opening moves. Openings, in fact, can stand as a distinct branch of study on its own in chess. A beginner who isn't mindful will soon find him- or herself inordinately preoccupied with their study. And here is where many get lost early in the game (no pun intended).

Our advice to beginners is to study chess openings as an art student would approach the study of anatomy. It is not something you can master in and out overnight, nor do you have to. Learn aspects of it here and there as you go along the main course, taking your time and not allowing yourself to get lost in abstractions or technicalities. Use only a few openings and focus instead on tactics and other stages of a chess match.

Kinds of Chess Openings

There are several ways to classify chess openings. One is according to which pawn the white side moves first:

- King's Pawn First - The king's pawn on e2 moves first. Examples: the Spanish Opening or Ruy Lopez, the King's Gambit and Giuco Piano.

- Queen's Pawn First - The queen's pawn on d2 makes the first move. Examples: Queen's Gambit and Slav Defense.

- Other Pawn/Piece First (Flank Openings) - Other piece/pawn moves first. Examples: English Opening and Bird's Opening.

Openings can also be grouped according to how defense is worked out:

King's Side or Queen's Side

The files a-d form the queen's side; files e-h comprise the king's side. Openings can emphasize one or the other, usually depending on which knight black develops sooner. For example, the Grunfeld Defense is a Queen's Side defense.

Regular Defense or Irregular Defense

When black responds to white's opening in a traditional way, it is regular. Otherwise, it is irregular. This is one reason why studying openings can be frustrating for the beginner—what do you do when your opponent does not respond like the books describe?!

The Nimzowitsch Defense is an irregular type of defense.

Open or Close Games

Openings can be either open or closed or somewhere in between. Open games usually have pieces ahead of pawns. This creates many open lines for attack, so it is vital to gain the upper hand in development. Open games let you exercise short-term tactics. A classic open game is the Ruy Lopez, as is the King's Gambit.

In closed games, pawns dominate the center of the board. This blocks the way for the pieces and slows down the game. You have to know long-term strategy to be able to use this type of opening well. An example of a closed game is the Queen's Gambit.

Chess openings can also be semi-open or semi-closed. The French Defense is semi-open.

Names of Openings

Chess openings are usually named after a person or place connected with its development, e.g. the Spanish Opening or Ruy Lopez is named after a great Spaniard of that name.

The openings also have terms included in their names that suggest what type of openings they are. You will read about defenses, attacks, variations, openings, gambits and counter-gambits.

Chess openings are a major branch of study in the game. But don't obsess with them to the point that you neglect other parts of the game. Learn a few openings only and take your time with the rest. Learn more from experience, not just theory.

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